Equipment – Non-Power

April 18, 2012 – Cedar Strip Canoe Finds a Home

Today, the watercraft fleet had a welcome addition when this red cedar strip canoe found a new home.

cedar strip canoe on subaru outback

The canoe was sitting lonely in a farm shed somewhere in Jasper county.  She hadn’t been in the water for over a decade and we were lucky enough to be picked as her new home.

cedar strip canoe

Shes’ 18′ long and was made in the late 80’s with western red cedar and not seen much water since then.

Despite this annoying imperfection in the hull, a good refinishing should take care of this stain on an otherwise serviceable canoe!

September 20, 2010 – Honey Extraction Day

Today was a big day at high hopes – honey extraction day! It was a rough year for beekeeping. We have three hives. Two of the hives were new this spring, so first year’s don’t often produce to much as they have to get organized and numbers bred up. The other hive swarmed, so lost some worker bees as well. Then, with the wet weather, it was hard for the bees to get out.

I missed Linda retrieving the supers from the hive – but here they are in the back of Sube. The idea is to get the supers during the day when many of the bees are out foraging. Then, you need to protect the stolen supers from the hive as they will try to retrieve the honey and the supers will be surrounded by an angry swarm. So, they are locked in the back of the car.

remove honey frames

Extracting is best done in a hot environment. The high today was 90 degrees, so the honey was warm and would flow easily. In addition, I turned on the propane heater in the garage to keep it warm after the sun went down. Since the garage is not bee proof, we wait until after dark and the bees are all back in the hive after sunset. Here Linda removes some frames from the supers. (No we are not on the payroll of the Ely, MN chamber as the car bumper sticker and Linda’s shirt may suggest.)

honey frame

Here’s a blue-ribbon frame – full and robust.

uncapping honey

Worth its weight in gold is the electric uncapping knife to slice off the wax caps from the comb.

Here’s a really angry-looking guy spinning the manual extractor. The spinning of the extractor slings the honey out of the frames. Spin for a bit and them turn the frames around and spin again.  He must have known that the next morning would bring aches of muscles usually not used!

Martin guards the honey gate at the bottom of the extractor.

The honey filters through three filters – a coarse mesh filter and a finely-woven fabric supported by another metal filter.

Finally, the honey safely tucked in jars. We ended up with about 10 gallons in total! The honey this year was very amber. That color is not what is typically is commercially available, despite the fact that dark amber honey has up to 20 times the anti-oxidants of run-of-the-mill commercial light honey.

one year ago…”Inaugural Chicken Butchering”

June 25, 2010 – Cherries to Food

It’s time to “do something” with the cherries. First thing is to pit them.

Pitting is the worst part of the job, but we added another pitter, so two people can work at once. At this moment it doesn’t look like the kids were suffering too much! These cherries are destined for jam and cherry pie filling.  I’ve come to love eating them off the tree, the sweet and tart must just be all full of great healthy compounds!

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #168″

February 7, 2009 – New Hay Feeder

Another accoutrement that we now need is a hay feeder.  Now that the weather has warmed to the upper 40’s, it’s possible to get outside and do stuff.

I copied this design from a photo in a sheep raising book, except I added the hardware cloth bottom and wheels, and made it a bit taller than designed, hoping goats wouldn’t jump on top of it.  I much prefer rolling heavy items than lifting them.  I made the framing out of AC2 lumber, but used cedar for the slats on the bottom and top, not wanting the hay to have that much contact with the chemically treated boards.

We used a design feature suggested by Martin.  I was trying to figure out a quick and dirty way to keep the hinged lid open when loading hay and Martin suggested a small block that’s attached with a wire that goes in the hinge to keep it open.

one year ago…”Thingamajig #106″

October 28, 2008 – Soap Cutting

It was another round of soap-making this week-end.  I thought it would be a good time to show the final stages of soap making.

About 12 hours after pouring into the mold, this batch was ready to cut.  You can tell when it is ready when the soap barely indents to a strong touch.

The soap mold has fold-away hinges and here’s what the mold looks like after the mold is collapsed.

After the plastic film is removed, the soap goes back in the mold and is cut into bars.

The soap must “cure” for 4-6 weeks before the chemical reaction is complete.  We’ve noticed our soap is like a fine wine – the longer it sits, the better it gets – we found some year-old stuff and it was even better than the new stuff.

one year ago…”Rare Breed Chickens – Silver Campine”.

September 26, 2008 – Stainless Steel Milk Cans

I was in Marshalltown shuttling kids and had about 45 minutes to kill, so I stopped in at a couple of garage sales.

I found these stainless steel milk jugs shoved under a table of clothes.  I didn’t hesitate too long before buying them for 5 bucks each.  When I got home and did a search on Ebay I found one that still had a day left on the auction and was already up to $77.00.  I’ll have to decide if I can really use them or list them for sale next spring.

one year ago…”Family Homecoming Royalty”.

July 21, 2008 – Red Green Alive and Well at High Hopes!

Today’s creation is inspired by Handyman’s Corner from the Red Green TV show.

To many of you, this might look like an old, tired gas grill that missed trips to the dump over the last two years. But sometimes keeping things around too long pays off. We also have an old cooktop from the kitchen remodeling that is usable, but awkward to carry and safely use. We also like to can outside in the summer – nothing like taking the hour long boil of a batch of tomatoes outside the house on a hot summer day. Sooooo, I’m thinking the two units need to be combined…

First remove the cover and all the old propane connections and tubing.

Hmm, after the cover is gone, it turns out the cooktop won’t slide inside, so I need to get the sawz-all out with the metal blade to make the frame relatively level. Then, slip a couple of boards in where the grates used to be, screw the cooktop into the boards and the unit is almost ready.

Here’s the completed unit! Note that the duct tape concealing the joint between the cooktop and old grill is for aesthetics only – it does not provide structural support in this case.  Now we have a portable unit with wheels, a self-contained and hidden propane tank and a battery of knobs that to the untrained eye, do absolutely nothing – but I’m wondering if I could wire them to the controls of a radio and use the grill knobs for tuning and volume of a hidden radio…

one year ago…”Harry Potter and the Dilly Beans”

May 2, 2008 – Up and Coming Materials Engineer?

I was in and out of the workshop this afternoon and when I returned one time, Martin had a piece of wood in the bench vice and was trying to turn it to observe, and ultimately try to break the wood. Dad counseled him that it is indeed important work, that we should try different kinds of materials, but that we should also wear some goggles in case a piece flew towards his eye.

So, he tried odd pieces of things from the garbage – vinyl, wood, sticks and watched deformation and shear at work!

one year ago…”Tree Mulching”

April 19, 2008 – Moving Fence

After another rainy week, it’s important to keep moving ahead, even though the saturated ground prevents us from getting the new trees and grapes in the ground. So today, we moved a fence to enlarge an exclosure in the pasture to accommodate the trees, even though we can’t plant them yet. With saturated ground, it was easy to pull and set the fence posts. It was foggy and drizzly in the morning, but stayed relatively dry in the afternoon.

Linda’s working with the post puller. This is one of my favorite pieces of equipment – it’s easy to use, virtually indestructible, and hard to lose! Since we don’t have much land to play with, we’ve opted to use cattle panels for much of the interior flexible fencing. We like the ease of installation and don’t have a lot of permanent fences, except the property boundaries, so even though it is more expensive initially, we never bought too much at a time, so the extra expense is worth it to us in ease of installation and flexibility.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #68″

April 8, 2008 – In the Bag

I have another scrounging success story.  I saw bags like this giant bulk bag outside a local feed mill.  It looked like they were throwing them away.  They were, so I picked up a few.  I think they are called spout bags.  These bags carried one ton of dried whey.

You may notice the round cut-out on the bottom of the bag – there is a sleeve that a sheet of hard black plastic slips into, as to regulate product pouring out of the bottom of the bag (or not, if it remains closed).  The bags have heavy duty straps on top (after all, the bag held 2,000 pounds of whey) and a couple of straps and fabric to enclose the tops of the bags.  They are envisioned to be used for storing the corn cobs we have lying around and they’ll be good to store and transport wood chips for future tree planting.  All I need are a couple of forks to attach to the loader bucket and I’ll be able to easily move them.  The price is right!
one year ago…”Easter Day”

March 15, 2008 – Maple Sugaring

Today we had a bit of a treat with an introduction to maple sugaring at Morning Sun Farm.  It looks like I’m following the sugar – a few weeks ago we walked through a sugar cane plant, now through maple syruping in Iowa.

Here the “Sapmaster” and one of his daughters check on the sap flow.  The sap flows best on days that are above freezing and nights that are below freezing.

Trees are tapped in a path throughout the woods.  The buckets (in this case milk jugs) collect the sap until the collectors come around.

Here’s a picture of a tap in a tree – if you look closely, you can see a drop near the edge.

Here Martin pounds a tap into a tree.

Here Martin pours sap from a tree that has been previously tapped into the bucket for transport.

This bucket is about 3/4 full of fresh sap.  I was amazed how crystal clear the sap is.

This is an old bulk tank salvaged from a defunct dairy used as a holding tank after the sap is collected, but before it is boiled.

Here is the sap boiling in the evaporation trays.

The sapmaster with his homemade boiler – consisting of an old fuel oil tank and other parts cobbled together.  He’s leaning on the cover that goes on the top.  You may also notice the scaffolding that he uses to support wind block in the case of strong, cold winds.  It is entirely wood-fired and about 8 gallons an hour evaporate.

Since the season is just beginning, I don’t have any photos of the next part of the process, nor the end product, but we have been able to put our stamp of approval on the final product in years past.

one year ago…”Red House Records Night at SXSW”

February 22, 2008 – Organic Farm Tour/Wal-Mart Brokers

Our first tour was to an organic farm.  The farm was located up in the mountains outside of San Jose, the capital city.

The man in the white hat is the farm operator and the woman is the daughter of one of the professors at the University of Costa Rica who came along as the interpreter.  Here Alvaro discusses his composting/soil fertility system.

There is a commercial potato farm across the road from Alvaro’s farm that struggles with pest and disease problems, requiring many applications of fungicides and insecticides.  Alvaro’s potatoes do not suffer the same problems and his explanation is the soil characteristics and the potato variety.

Here is an intercropping of carrots and radishes in one of his diversified beds.

Farming on a slope in a place that receives 120 inches of rain a year requires some ingenuity.  He digs these holes throughout his farm along natural drainages.  They receive water during rains and if the erosion starts moving soil, the holes catch the soil so it doesn’t leave his farm

Alvaro had many scarecrows to try to frighten off birds.  Here’s one that give the illusion of movement.

Here’s one wearing a cap from Iowa State! That should be good enough to scare any pest away!

Alvaro also uses vermiculture to help break down organic materials and improve his soil.  He piles up weeds and wast organic matter in the field and seeds them with the vermicomposting worms to break down the piles faster.  Here we are admiring a sample of the worms and the powerful castings.

Alvaro is very much an innovator. Here is a drainage that comes from his pig pen to an inlet pipe.  The interpreter used a kind word to describe the animal manure.  She said “the dump from the animal.”  Alvaro has recently been convinced that his system would not work nearly an well without animals as part of his system.

The dump goes to what he calls his artificial intestine, a makeshift methane digester.  He made this system for less than $100.  The slurry goes into the digester, there’s a relief valve for the methane and a water lock for the liquids leaving the bladder.  He pipes the methane to a stove that he uses to dry things in a nearby shed.  He hopes to someday build his house here and use the methane for the cookstove in his house.  Again, a really neat low-tech solution to making nearly free energy from a waste product in most modern non-integrated production systems.

Finally, he didn’t let us go without providing the 22 of us with lunch!

The second half of the day we visited a fruit broker that was recently purchased by Wal-Mart.  We visited the warehouse where the farmers dropped off the products and they were routed to trucks.  We were not allowed to take photos, had to take off all our jewelry, including rings, earrings, and the like.  The warehouse was essentially a building with loading docks on both sides full of crates of products in the middle.  They were happy to take many pictures of us (although we were forbidden to do likewise).

The owners were very proud that Wal-Mart purchased them, but their formula for offering farmers credit to expand, offering growing assistance, and cornering their market sounded a lot like business from colonial days on forward – get farmers in debt, become the primary source of information, and control access to markets.  The farmers in this system even have to buy and package the products.  So, if you are a potato farmer, you have to bring all the potatoes already weighed, cleaned, and bagged in the retail containers/bags and purchase all the packing materials and handling equipment.  The morning and afternoon could not have demonstrated a bigger contrast in growing and distribution systems.  Interestingly, the organic farm was the most popular visit for most of the trip participants.

one year ago…”Thingamajig Thursday #62

February 12, 2008 – Mystery Package

Everyone, including the delivery driver, didn’t know what to expect in this 6 foot high package that was dropped off while I was at work.

Even though it was about 6 feet tall, the shipping charge was only $10.16.  The family is never too sure what might be in the mail at high hopes.

Mystery revealed – some tubex tree shelters and bamboo stakes – all at what I thought was very reasonable prices – a buck each for the tree shelters in packages of 5 that are usually $2.50-$3.50 each and the bamboo stakes were 6 foot for $0.30 each.  They’ll be used for something – perhaps a trellis or something else – it will just be good to have some around.  Thanks to Ray’s Supply Company for the quick delivery as well.

one year ago…”SXSW Draws Near”

October 2, 2007 – Chelsea the Mini Horse in Permanent Home

This week the kids (even Martin) worked hard getting the rest of the corn cobs out of the horse stall. It became a bit more imperative as I want to start working on the hog barn soon and can’t when she was in there for temporary lodging. So I whipped up this gate to fit the odd size of the stall.

We thought it was a nice big space,but she promply ripped the gate hinge out of the wood. So, a sturdier design and she seems to have calmed down and is starting to make it home.

one year ago…

September 9, 2007 – File Under: It Works

Joel Salatin would be proud of this cheap and easy temporary turkey shelter.  The turkeys used to be in the “turkey tractor” (the moveable pen that is now upside down on the old hay wagon).  But they were getting too big, so I just put a tarp over part of the wagon for rain protection, put the tractor on top as a rain porch for the food, hung the waterer on and voila – a movable turkey resaurant, hotel, and umbrella.

I had thought of building a small shelter for the food and turkeys, but this was much quicker and probably better than a portable shelter that would be prone to blow-over and perhaps not as easy to move as this one, already on wheels.  The turkeys are all within a fence that keeps big critters like dogs and coyotes out, so they are free to roam a fairly wide range.

one year ago…

June 2, 2007 – Most-Used Piece of Equipment on the Farm

The humble garden cart gets my vote for the most indispensable piece of equipment on the farm.  We bought one of the Vermont Carts new and picked up another at an auction.  They are the best money ever spent on the farm.  We’ve had one ten years and it is still works as well as the day we put it together.  It is sturdy, very easy to push, fits through gates easily, tips, and can haul hundreds of pounds if need be.

Now there is an alternative – the guy who brought the world the whiz-band chicken plucker has published plans to make your own cart.

one year ago…

May 29, 2007 – Soap Making Day 2

After the soap is poured, it needs to sit in the molds until you can make a small indentation with your finger with some pressure – usually within 24-36 hours. Then it’s time to cut!

Linda positions the cutter at the appropriate width and slips the soap cutter down through the slots on the mold.

Here’s a view of a freshly cut block – you may be able to see the cornmeal flecks added to make “farmer’s lava” soap!

The cut bars are stored for 6 weeks or so in a place where they can “breathe.” We usually cover them with a piece of fabric in these mesh baskets. It takes that long for the “soaponification” process to completely transfer the lye and fat to soap.

one year ago…

May 23, 2007 – Gearing Up for Soap-Making

We’re getting ready for the first soap-making episode of the season this upcoming weekend. Last year I made a couple different styles of soap molds and the one with the hinges to open up the mold after the soap has hardened was a runaway favorite with the soap alchemists.  So, today, I made a couple more.

The bottom piece is a mold all ready to pour soap.  The top shows a mold extended, as you would unfold it after the soap had hardened.  The smaller pieces can slide wherever you’d like in the mold, depending on how much soap you have to pour.  The small slit on the right side is where a soap cutter can slide in to cut the soap.

one year ago…

May 11, 2007 – Little Projects

Today some nagging things were completed. I’ve long disliked the placement of the metal machine shed on the property (it predates our arrival on the farm). It presents a wall of steel driving into the farm, blocks the view of the pasture to the east and is generally ugly. I’ve always wanted to put up some greenery, so to help the hops we planted as an experiment, I put up a 16 foot cattle panel on end. It was a bit trickier than I anticipated, needed to get the tractor loader out to lift it into place.

The hops can grow 30 feet tall, so even this seemingly tall structure is still undersized. If it works out, we will add sections in future years.

I also got the deck on the small trailer built – I made the deck detachable using pins to hold it to the frame, so I could take advantage of the trailer’s variable length. This deck was built in the short position – when I build a longer deck, I’ll just have to pull the 4 pins, extend the trailer and swap out decks.

I also got 80 or so feet of Christmas trees fenced off in the pasture. 
one year ago…

May 7, 2007 – Trailer Guy

My old small trailer broke last week, so it was time for a replacement.  I happened upon this one that was on close-out from Farm-Tek, usually $250, marked down to $112.  I was pleasantly surprised with the sturdiness of the frame and thickness of the angle iron used to make it.

It can vary in length from 60-92 inches.  My next move is to make a deck for it (maybe a couple of different lengths) and begin hauling.  I do have a weakness for trailers/wagons.  I have the same weakness for spring/fall jackets.  I’m guessing it’s better than having a weakness for cars/trucks and scotch!

one year ago…

January 3, 2007 – New Gate

Another 50 degree day. The kids are back in school. Once again the “Cone of Silence” can descend upon the household. Got down all the Christmas lights and removed the hanging door hardware from the old corn crib doors for re-use with new doors and started next year’s burn pile with the Christmas tree and old wooden doors.

Took a walk with Linda in the back pasture and started thinking about possible uses. So many options! Will keep you posted.

Got one rotting gate replaced.

This is a home-made design using a piece of a wire panel and treated lumber. It’s an original design and works quite well as affixing the panel lends lots of sturdiness to the gate. The heavy-duty gate pin on the bottom with a regular hinge on top adds to the strength and simplicity.

one year ago…

October 14, 2006 – Garden Clean Up Begins

Today was a big get the garden cleaned up day. We hired one of Linda’s students to help and got all the tomato vines pulled and dragged to the burn pile, pulled all the posts holding the tomato cages and bean trellises out, dragged them to the winter storage location, chopped the sunflowers and corn stalks, and weeded the baby pines one last time before winter.

Some of the tomato cages lean against the barn. These are home made out of old woven wire fencing destined for the dump, slid on top of 1/2 of a steel fence post, they make sturdy tomato cages.

one year ago…

August 20, 2006 – Today’s Bounty

Fellow scavenger and bargain hunter neighbor calls me about 5:00 yesterday and informed me of this “rummage sale” at a former small state nursing home. Everything was for sale, but nothing was marked – it was make an offer.

The best bargain, I think, is an 8 ft long stainless steel table.

I did a quick check on e-bay and found a used one for $650.00, so I’m probably all right on that one. They wouldn’t sell me the stainless 3-section sink off the wall though.

I also got a couple of 5 foot bakers racks with about 5-6 shelves, two gym style locker towers, a CD player, some food service items (cookie sleeves, portion cups) and cases of old food for chicken food – chow mien noodles, oatmeal, ice cream cones and a bunch of other things. Total bill for everything $72.00.

It was a sad place – all the old beds, institutional-type furniture and dormitory-type rooms – even some people’s personal effects were boxed up in a closet – clothes, tapes, Christmas decorations etc. It was as if the place was closed suddenly and everything was just left as it was.

June 28, 2006 – Grain Grinder

A few years back I bought this grain grinder on E-bay.

It works great for small quantities and grinds a range from coarse to flour. We use it occasionally, like today when we need some creep feed for our bottle lambs and all the feed in the farm store was laced with anti-biotics. So, we have to make our own.

Here’s a sample of the coarse grind. It takes about 15 minutes to grind up about 50 lbs of corn.

June 10, 2006 – Auction Day

I went to an auction for the first time in a long time today. It was a tough call as it was really cool (in the 50’s after a week of 90’s), so putting up ceiling insulation in the attic (without windows) was also calling. But I decided to go, in part, because it was raining and I thought the crowd would be a bit thinner. The auction is an annual event to raise money for the Mid-Iowa Antique Power Show. I can get there on all gravel roads, so it is good to drag things home. Most of the morning there were three auction rings going at once until they got to the big machinery.

I thought this old guy was a character (he was driving the auctioneer’s truck around). I don’t know how I managed to get a picture of him without a cigarette in his mouth!

There were hays racks full of treasure or junk, depending on your perspective. Here they are showing the merchandise up for bid.
The bidding gets hot and heavy as the ring men point out who has high bid. I ended up spending most of the day there and hauling things home at 15 mph.

Here’s a nice collection of burlap and seed bags – all bags $8.00. These were my favorites. Good local color from a Grinnell company – the town where we go to Farmer’s Market. I think one could more than pay back my entire bid price.

A nice pile of Dekalb seed corn bags.

More local color with these seed bags from Lynnville, Iowa.

I couldn’t pass up these metal emblems ($10) from John Deere tractors. They came along with a couple of side rails for a John Deere 2010 (whatever they are!)

This is an old animal chute. I bought it for the wheels and frame to make another trailer type. (A steal at $5)

Here’s a classic old wagon for whatever. Just needs one new tongue and groove floorboard on the bottom ($100).

Finally, a 6 foot blade that is VERY heavy, ready for use on the tractor ($30). I’m very pleased with this piece and especially the price.

After the auction it is off to Bruce Springsteen. More about that tommorrow…

May 20, 2006 – Saturday on the Farm

It’s another keeper of a day. Lots of little things today. Planted a dozen peppers, spent half the morning in town getting lumber and running errands. Built a waterproof top for the gravity wagon that is storing chicken feed. We had some makeshift tarps over it before and a few leaks in the shed found their way in, so it was time to make a permanent solution out of leftover pieces of steel roofing.

Also got some planting in –

Martin is helping Mom plant her Mother’s Day flowers. Linda made three batches of soap – among them what looks like a better goat milk effort than the first time around.

April 17, 2006 – Fence Repair

Neighbors Don and Phyllis came over today to check the fencelines after winter. They cruise around the pasture in this nifty ATV. Martin was lucky enough to get a ride for part of the trip.

We had just a few places to shore up along the farmstead.

Here’s a place where a corner post wrapped in woven wire cracked at ground level.

After I pulled all the fencing staples, Martin singlehandedly drove it down to the burn pile, dumped it, and pushed the empty cart up the hill!

Here’s the fix. Now, I know replacing a wooden post with a steel one is not generally good practice – Don did offer to come put a new wooden post in, but this entire fence needs to be reconfigured, but the steel post was an 8 footer, and it leans on a couple of feet of cement at the base, so I tried to cheat a little. By the end of the day, the cows were over.
In continuing signs of spring, the “automatic waterer” for the chicken coop was hooked up (a 55 gallon barrel of water outside, hosed into the coop), the fence between the shed and barn put up and the last of this round of R-board stub wall pieces cut and pushed up in the attic.

April 12, 2006 – Flamer!

Late today, the wind finally stopped blowing enough to try out the borrowed flame weeder.

Here, I am trying to fry the border between the sod and the new raspberry patch before the new berries are planted. I’m not too sure how it will work on grass, I imagine it will need a few treatments. Hey, who says organic gardening isn’t thrilling. The thing sounds like a jet plane and you don’t need a big budget Hollywood action movie to use a flamethrower! Many people use them to knock down young weeds before their crop germinates or in the case of corn, even after the corn has germinated. I also got some cardboard and mulch spread on part of a garden and weeded around some of last year’s Christmas trees.

Martin and Linda work on the raised beds in the herb garden. If you look behind them, you can see I also started putting in the patio blocks around the future raised beds.

Finally, here is another shot of spring – this shows last year’s cranberries along with this year’s new growth.

March 18, 2006 – Full Farm Press

This afternoon we engaged everybody in completing some tasks. Martin and Linda scrubbed the chicken waterers.

Claire and I destroyed the old composter, separated the composted from the uncomposted and put the new composter around the pile. Linda and Emma cleaned out chicken doo-doo from the hog barn.

Claire taking out the last of the rotted wood from the “temporary” composter we built when we moved in nine years ago.

Claire putting the cedar slats to separate the “done” from “undone” sections in the new composter.
Early this morning, the buck goat went to the sale barn. In the evening we were recipients of a wonderful St Patties dinner at Two Friends farm, featuring real corned beef, Irish soda bread, potatoes, cabbage and goat milk cheesecake!

February 26, 2006 – Replacement Composter Done

I drove home this morning, so after unpacking and the like, didn’t have too much time for farming, other than taking a walk around the farm with Linda looking at it with slightly new eyes, finishing the household composter, and getting a small load of mulch from the pallet plant.

I tired of driving on the interstate on the way home, so I got off at hwy 20 and started zipping south and east on county roads for diversion. I was really struck with two things – all the hog confinements and the rural poverty. I don’t know if it just looks worse in this brown season – or if it was the contrast between the overflowing life of the conference attendees and their hope for a self-directed future and the run-down and abandoned farmsteads. It made me sad that forces have run so many off the land and that an alternative exists that many have yet to try/are unable to try.

February 11, 2006 – Composter Built

Today, Martin and I finished building the small animal composter!

We used treated 2×4 and welded wire (we got on closeout at a store that went out of business last fall) to make the sides and some old roofing I found under the corn crib for the roof.

This shows a closer shot of one of the sides of the composter. The part facing up is the outside of the composter.


This shows a closer shot of one of the sides of the composter. The part facing up with the wire attached shows the inside of the composter.


Here’s a bit of detail on how the sides go together – with a section of electrical conduit and some screw-in eyes. This makes it really easy to move or take one side off to fill it up.


Here’s the final product. A great project – Marty helped by standing on the rolled wire while I got one side tacked down and helped hand me screws, etc. as I needed them. I’m hopeful this will save me a lot of digging in the coming years. Here’s a link to the original sheep composter that was the inspiration for this one.

Next, we need to make a new household composter because the “temporary” one we built the first month we moved in 9 years ago is starting to rot.

February 7, 2006 – Sheep Composter

Two Friends farmer Steven sent me this link for a great small animal composter. This will be of great use on our farm to dispose of the entrails from butchered sheep and goats as the locker does not keep them because the rendering truck that picks up hogs and cattle will not pick up sheep and goats. I always dread butchering day because it means digging a big hole in the ground by hand and covering them up. This will also be useful for the chicks/chickens that die before market weight. All in all, it will be a great labor/time saver. I just have to get to town to buy the wood.

My camera came back from Canon with a new lens assembly – so more photos will soon be part of the blog once again.

February 5, 2006 – Mulch Ready

Couldn’t help but get a little bit of farm work done today. Retrieved a pickup and trailer load of mulch for the trees. It’s great that it’s free and only 4 miles away. Here’s the wagon safely tucked in the shed ready to haul the mulch to the trees in the spring. Now, if I only had another three trailers!

It’s nice to get this stuff ready for spring.

January 20, 2006 – Farm Bell

One of the nicest “extras” we bought for the farm is a real farm bell. We ordered it from Lehmans – an Amish catalog and store full of basic homestead and farm tools, including lots of non-electric devices.

farm bell
We have pretty strict rules about the bell. It is really loud and is not supposed to ring just for fun. If we are out somewhere on the farm and the kids need us for something, they can ring it. Likewise, if the kids are out playing and we need them to come in for dinner or some other reason, we ring the bell. If you hear the bell, it means, drop what you are doing and come home. It even works on the loud, windy days.

You may notice the bright and sunny 50 degree days are now gone and snow is back.

January 1, 2006 – Open Source Cattle Panel Feeder

Computer geeks have “open source” software, meaning collaborative, free software instead of software controlled by a company, like Microsoft. But I digress as a point of departure for “open source cattle panels.” Fellow sustainable sojourner Steven Smith brings this design for a hay feeder to our farm.

There are many uses for cattle panels – someday I’ll devote an entire section of my web site to the many designs and uses, but for today – it’s a hay feeder. Here’s a first look at the feeder.panel feeder

Here’s what it looks like full of hay.
panel feeder

The design is simple and flexible – cut a panel the long way however wide you’d like it, leaving a little stub from the wires to insert into an existing vertical panel. Take another piece of wire and make it the length you’d like, and bend “hooks” in it to connect from the vertical panel (in this case, the board that makes the top of the fence). These can be quickly moved as needed.

October 24, 2005 – An Afternoon Project

Today’s project was one of those “good enough” projects. I’ve adopted Joel Salatin’s mantra of making things cheap and just good enough, no matter what it looks like. This was an old cattle chute I put a new tire on and am converting to a mulch hauler (while retaining its ability to still act as a shute. Here’s the before picture.
shute before
The rule for this was to use only materials on the farm – no town trip allowed! So, the side extensions are paneling we ripped out of the house to expose the plaster, the front removable section was leftover plywood from the trailer I recently refurbished, some wood was from the old house that was torn down, the electrical conduit was leftover from a project and the handle on the back sliding “door” handle was from an old double-hung window that was replaced!
Here’s the end result:
shute after
Casual observers may not appreciate some of the decisions that need to be made in such a project. Does the nice side of the paneling face out for a good look, or face in so it doesn’t look like an old woodie station wagon which are long out of style?

Here’s a bit of a close-up of the back shute showing some design features:
shute after

October 21, 2005 – RoundTuit Work

Today was a day of “RoundTuit” work. Stuff that needs to get done, but never bubbles up to the top of the list. One of today’s tasks was taking a flat wheel off an old cattle chute (last fall we dragged it out of the corn crib to make way for the basketball court, flat tire and all). We took the wheel off and brought it to town to get a new old tire put on it.
Here’s Marty jacking it higher as we get ready to put the new tire on.
lug nuts
As Marty learns the next steps in replacing a tire, he demonstrates tightening up the lug luts.

I’m thinking of converting it to a mulch storer/hauler as there will be lots of that in the coming years.

September 7, 2005 – New Farm Toy

It’s an exciting day when a new piece of equipment comes to high hopes. This old flare wagon found its way home tonight.
flare wagon

To many it may look like an old rusty wagon, but to me it is full of possibilities. I could fill it with extra corn for the corn stove, fill it with custom-ground layer food, or use it to store mulch for next year’s tree planting. It has a great John Deere running gear (wheels and axles), good rubber, and the box does not have holes. It even has a hydraulic lift to tip it up to pour contents out the back.
I picked it up at Vern’s Implement in Melbourne. He’s got a field full of junk and not junk and a shop in town where he tinkers with old tractors and goes to auctions and sells equipment to help pay for his restoration habit. Anybody who’s driven by Melbourne has seen the place. He’s also got solar panels (a lot of them) on his house.

May 25, 2005 – Playground

This is one of those well-meaning projects that drags on and on. Last year we thought it would be great to get Martin a playground with a swing, slide, tower, and monkey bars. So last June 30, he got the playground in a box – a stretch for a 2 year old to make the jump from the box of hardware and lumber to a playground. Picking up the lumber was the most weight the truck ever hauled – I was worried something would break the whole way home. We got some of the pieces together fairly quickly – it was the landing pad that took forever – it was neither fun nor ever a top priority to dig out a 20×30 area six inches deep to place the wood chips (I’ve come to learn to make things at ground level, rather than build up).

At any rate, it was about 3/4 dug out by the time the ground froze last winter and this spring is a big gardening and planting time, but I want to have it up by his birthday THIS YEAR. So a burst of digging this weekend and the better part of a day today got the landscape fabric spread, wooden border put in, and wood chips spread. We built most of the tower today.

We were in a bit of a quandary trying to tip the tower up with only dad and Martin. We gambled and won that we could pull it up with the tractor and a chain (the possibilities were the tower would just drag on the ground and not lift up, the tower would lift up and promptly keep going to tip back the other way). The good outcome happened, it lifted and did not tip toward us from the momentum of tipping up. Martin spent most of the day with me, fetching screws, talking non-stop, and asking for the slide to be put up. He seems genuinely excited and must sense it is finally coming together.

May 10, 2005 – Ye Olde Trailer II (steel and musical)

Here’s the trailer with all the old wood ripped off. Looks mighty fine, don’t ya think? trailer

Today’s paper has a segue from my trailer to musical trailers – a big story about Trailer Records. Trailer Records is a small indie (started in a mobile home) record label producing Iowa artists – Greg Brown, Bo Ramsey, Brother Trucker, etc. It’s interesting that the commodification and lack of diversity in farming is also present in the commodification of music – as Dave Zollo explains in the story.

I loved his discussion of keeping the “Iowa Sound” alive – a sound Zollo describes as “a sound that arose from Iowa’s proximity to the Mississippi River and its status as a gateway to the West, with different socio-cultural crossroads. You’ve got country music, blues and folk music, all with long and rich histories here.” Although Iowa may be most famous musically now for metal-mongering, chart-topping Slipknot, there’s something to be said for the mix of blues, folk, and country that somehow defies categorization (and therefore no play on Clear Channel).

For a heap of good music that defies Clear Channel, visit Miles of Music and make sure to scroll down and listen to some of the samples.

May 5, 2005 – Ye Olde Trailer

I’ve had this old trailer in a corner of the farm for the last 7 years or so. It collects srap metal until I have enough to go to the dump. It literally has not moved for 7 years until this week. trailer

I’ve started to disassemble it for possible retro-fitting as a new trailer. We need a canoe trailer to haul canoe and “stuff” on vacation. The plan is to take all the old wood sides off this trailer and bring it into a welding shop to see if we can add a longer tongue and removable racks for the canoe (perhaps even a removable long tongue so the long tongue is only on when hauling the canoe).

This trailer is a hand-me down trailer from my Dad. I used to hate this trailer because it meant more work! It was the wood hauling trailer and Dad would cut up the trees in lengths as long as my brother and I could drag out of the woods, then we’d load them up and bring them home. Having the trailer meant we weren’t done when the pickup was full. I guess I’ve adopted some of his practices as the girls now groan when I say we need to go get more free wood chips.

I’m hoping this is the first of many pictures of the trailer on the road to re-use!

April 30, 2005 – When will Spring Come Back?

Another freeze last night – record low on this date was 33 until last night’s 31. Most of the day was in the 40’s and windy again. Got two tanks full of water distributed so all the pine trees got watered. We use water off the roof of the barn that goes into a big tank.
water tank
Here’s Emma helping water the trees out in the field.
emma watering

We got just a few more things planted in the garden before the wind sucked the energy out of us.

Girls went to a a dog show in the morning and earned money for their 4-H club by scooping doggy-do from the show rings. This evening some friends from the farm class came over and vaccinated and turned the boys into no chance of being daddies.

March 21, 2005 – Vacation or Fence?

You know you are a real farmer when you’d rather spend your money on a new fence than a caribbean vacation! I started building the fence for this year’s tree planting. I ultimately decided on the cattle panels as they will be most flexible and “always on” even though they are a bit pricey. Today, I finished pulling the snow fence posts and got about 6 panels (96 feet) worth of fence hauled and up. That means I’m about 1/14 done with the fence. Here’s about half the pieces on the wagon.
Tomorrow morning I leave with Linda on a 2 day get-away to the Villages of Van Buren County. We’re renting a “cottage” and today I went shopping for food and drink. It looks like the weather is going to be crummy, so we’ll probably spend less time hiking at Lacy-Keosauqua and more time working on the farm business plan.

March 19, 2005 – Worn Out

If not for a phone call, I was about out for the night on the couch I’m finally tuckered out. Another class day. Today we had a volunteer with a 25-ft 5th wheel trailer offer to help us haul the 100 cattle panels (4 gauge gridded wire fence sections 16 feet long) that Linda had paid for and reserved earlier in the week. In the age of sparkling customer service, only 68 were there today. So that means another trip some other time. It’s time for bed.

March 16, 2005 – Fire and Snow Fence

Today was almost as pleasant as it gets – calm, about 50 degrees after a winter of cold, and no bugs! Ran errands in town for a couple of hours with Martin, then we burned the pile of raspberry canes and tomato vines from last year’s garden.

It took some time as I burned the grass around it for some space before lighting the pile, so I wouldn’t have a grass fire on my hands. Burning is one of those necessary dangerous tasks. There’s a sense of skill and care in controlling a fire, especially this time of year when a fire can run for several miles. The vines didn’t dry down enough after we got them out of the garden before wetness and winter set in. Burning helps reduce the chance of disease to spread. So we did!

Then we cleaned the garage and mud room and took down about 150 feet of snow fence. I enjoy putting up and taking down the snow fence. The satisfaction comes, in part, due to the visual nature of the work. So much we do is “invisible work” that putting up and taking down snow fence is highly visible sign of progress.


February 14, 2005 Valentine’s Day

The kids couldn’t wait to go back in the pasture and check out the “pond.” All three came back with varying depths of soaked jeans, mudstreaked faces, and wet boots. The remaining snow and warmth (in the upper 40’s) has made a quagmire.

Completed an outdoor counter/drainer out of cast-off materials today. Part of a vintage 70’s harvest gold accent countertop from our kitchen remodel, a couple of metal old refrigerator shelves, and wood salvaged from the original farmhouse for the frame. The outdoor counter will be useful in washing and cleaning vegetables outdoors.

Also wrapped up some seed ordering. Lost my Peaceful Valley catalog, but was able to use their website www. to order some beneficial insect plant and pasture improvement mixes.